With her childhood years in Greece and her Cambridge degree in French and Italian, Lara Ferris is has the kind of inquisitive spirit and facility for languages that allows her to get under the skin of cultures and communities. That she became a strategist might seem fairly inevitable given her adventurousness and curiosity for how things work. As a child, though, Lara was convinced that she would become an actor. Thinking about it, though, the empathy and understanding of human behaviour that one cultivates through drama is also a pretty handy part of the planner’s toolkit.
LBB’s Liam Smith caught up with Lara to pick her sizeable brains….
LBB> Tell us a bit about your childhood – where was it spent and what kind of kid were you?
LF> When I was seven my parents moved our family out to Greece for three years. So, I spent most of my primary school at a British school in Athens. We arrived the summer that the Euro was introduced, and left the summer of the Olympic Games, so I experienced the golden years of early Noughties Greece through the haze of childhood. I had lots of friends from many countries, everyone I knew spoke more than one language, and I learnt a lot about just how many different types of people there are in the world.
LBB> Did creativity play a big role in your childhood?
LF> I read a lot when I was little. When I was very young, I would have two books on the go at once – one for upstairs, one for downstairs. My parents both worked so we had nannies who were always doing art projects with me and my brothers, and I used to spend a lot of time making up plays and dance routines. I did dance and drama seriously at secondary school and joined the National Youth Theatre. Until I left for university, I always thought I would be an actor.
LBB> And how did you end up as a planner? Was it what you always wanted to do?
LF> Not at all! I didn’t even know the job existed. When I left university, all I knew was that I wanted to live abroad more. So, I joined the Yoox-Net-A-Porter Group, at their office in Milan, working for the content team across multiple luxury brand sites. About six months in, I realised that I was planning upwards. I understood campaign mechanisms, could see the differences between regional market needs, and was itching to get more involved. After speaking to friends and colleagues, I decided move back to the UK and train as a planner – after first reading a lot of books and blogs to understand exactly what that meant!
LBB> You're trilingual and have lived in London, Athens, Milan and Paris. What made you decide to return to England, and how does your experience abroad influence your work as a strategic planner?
LF> I came back to the UK to be closer to friends and family, and also because London is also one of the biggest advertising hubs in Europe, even with Brexit. But working in digital means that our client briefs often extend across many markets, and so I find myself drawing on my languages and time spent abroad to gain better insights into the audiences that I’m researching, better understand the nuances of different cultural trends, and build stronger campaigns.
LBB> As a strategist, how do you stay on top of new trends, mediums, technology, etc.?
LF> I read the news, a lot. And listen to podcasts – and to people! There’s a lot to learn from talking to the people around you, both inside & outside agencies. Everyone has different interests and something new to say. And I spend a lot of time on social media, soaking up conversations.
LBB> You joined POSSIBLE in July 2017. What drew you to the agency?
LF> As a digital creative agency, POSSIBLE’s hybrid offering of digital design strategy and communications planning means that they can offer a full bespoke digital solution to clients’ business problems, from customer experience to service design and business transformation, and also paid media communications and digital product builds. In London they have a small office, with a start-up vibe – but it’s also part of WPP’s Wunderman Group, which brings lots of exciting opportunities. But of course, it’s the people that make it worthwhile, and I’ve made some really lovely friends.
LBB> Which projects that you’ve been involved in are you most proud of and why?
LF> I’m proud to say I’ve been given lots of responsibility from day one. I’ve used my languages to carry out in-depth audience research in Brazil and Mexico for Bayer and taken over the strategy of our Aston Martin account. I’ve also completed some major trend research into blockchain and cryptocurrency for HSBC. As well as all that, I’ve also been hard at work on pitching for new business, which we’re just now hearing that we’ve won! So I’m looking forward to developing a combined influencer and paid media strategy for our new retail client...
LBB> Outside of work, what do you like to get up to?
LF> I do yoga, go to exhibitions and the theatre, and spend time catching up with friends. At the weekend I like escaping back to the countryside for walks, to detox from the tech-heavy weeks. I also spend lots of time travelling – this weekend I’m in Paris celebrating the birthday of a friend who I worked with when I lived there in 2015. And in three weeks’ time I’m going to South Korea to visit a friend I made in Milan, who now works for another WPP digital advertising agency back home in Seoul.